Monday, January 28, 2013

Good Ideas Gone Bad

Have you ever had a good idea that turned out badly?   When the idea popped into your head, it seemed like the most natural thing to do.  But, when you put it into action, you realized it was the most stupid, honestly dumb thing you have ever done?  I have done this.  And I believe that most of us humans have done this.  Maybe not to the degree that I have done this, however.
My idea was to tie my daughter Erin’s big wheel to the collar of my 100 pound collie-shepherd.  Now, that does not sound so bad, until you realize that the object of this exercise was to sit little two-year old Erin in the seat of the big wheel while my 100 pound collie-shepherd, App, pulled her.  Somehow it never occurred to me that App would do anything other than walk along pulling little Erin, who would be laughing and enjoying herself.  It is here that I have to interject to say that her mother was nowhere around.  She was in the house making the enormous (and erroneous) assumption that her precious daughter was being well taken care of and protected by her loving father.
Well, needless to say, no sooner than I sat little Erin down on the seat of the big wheel, App spotted a cat across the street.  I saw his ears perk up and the hair on his neck rise and that is when I suddenly realized that this was not a good idea; that it was a stupid and honestly dumb idea and that I should never in a million years had done what I had done.
But, it was too late.  The big wheel was tied.  Erin was behind the wheel.  And App was in motion; fast motion.  But I was moving in slow motion.  It was like I was having one of those dreams where I am chasing something but I cannot move and the thing I am chasing is moving in fast motion.  I was reaching for App, and I could see my hand moving slowly while App started his huge, powerful, muscular, beautiful, horrible, terrible sprint.  At the bottom of the yard, I saw the big wheel begin to turn sideways and Erin falling out.  Again, I ran to Erin in slow motion, reaching her after running a marathon in my mind, all the while looking at App crossing the street, big wheel bouncing along, cat running ahead of him.
Erin was crying as I reached her and picked her up, holding her close.  I took her inside to her mother’s arms.  “What is wrong?” she asked.  And I said, “You’ll never believe what I thought was a good idea.”

Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Raking the Leaves

Raking and gathering leaves is a special time for me.  You see, when I do this task, I hear the long ago voices of children and I see the ghost of a dog. 
The voices are those of my children who would play in the piles of leaves that I raked up.  And when I spread the old blanket that I used to gather the leaves, my children would get inside the blanket with the leaves and I would carry this wonderful bundle across the yard, and all the while the air would be filled with joyful screams and laughter.
The dog was our family pet, Sugars.  I brought her home to live with us when she was just several weeks old.  Our daughter named her on that first day, but our son claimed her, saying quietly in her ear “You are my dog, not Erin’s.  You are my dog, not Erin’s”. And leaf raking time was one of her favorite times.  She would run through the yard, finding the piles of leaves, leaping and diving and burying herself in them, much to the delight of the kids.
The years have passed and the days have flown away.  The children have become adults and moved away from home.  Sugar’s died the week that our son went away to college and her grave lies in our backyard.  But as I rake the yard now, I can still hear the children laughing as I pull the blanket filled with leaves. And now and again, I catch a glimpse of Sugars leaping into a pile.

Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hear the Songs

There are songs; songs that can make me, songs that can break me; songs that can take me to another place in time.  There are songs that can inspire me and give me hope.  There are songs that can bring me to tears.  There are songs that make me wish for things and there are songs that tear me down.  There are songs of war and songs of peace.  There are songs of home; of familiar streets and smells of hot dogs on the fourth of July.  There are songs of far-away places; of strange languages spoken by strange faces. There are songs of rivers flowing onward, downward into the arms of an all encompassing ocean.  There are songs that give me a sense of belonging and there are songs that make me fear that I do not belong.  There are songs that sound of snow and fire and winter wind. There are songs of bright, sunny, cloudless, blue skies; and songs of mountains and beaches; of sailboats and suntan oil; of boardwalks and trails.   There are songs that I know have come directly from the lips of angels.  There are songs of my youth and songs of my old age and of my in-between.  There are songs of the shower and songs of families gathered in one room.  There are songs of my mother and songs of my father and songs I catch myself singing that I did not know I knew.  There are songs of my children; songs of little blue eyes and laughter and the smell of babies.  There are songs of funerals and of other long good-byes; songs of healing and of pain.  There are, first and last, songs of love, real love, when I knew I had found the person I would never leave.  There are songs of deep happiness that no one can explain.  There are songs of vision when I can see clearly to the other side of my life and there are songs of rain and dark days when nothing makes sense.  There are songs of life that was, life that is, and life that will be; songs of people living lives unseen; quiet songs of the day to day; songs of the ordinary; beautiful songs sung by many, heard by a few. 
Listen. 
There are songs.
Hear the songs.

Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Lesson in Love

Matthew 16: 26  "For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Several years ago, I was attending a conference of the United Methodist Church, held in the mountains of North Carolina at Lake Junaluska.  On the first day of the conference, I walked into crowded Stuart Auditorium where 3,000 people were sitting and began to look for a place to sit.  Finding a seat when you are late for the beginning of this conference is always a  problem and many people were standing against the walls at the back of the auditorium.  As I made my way down the aisle, scanning row after row of seats full of talking faces, I heard someone ask, “Are you looking for a seat?”
I turned to face an elderly man who looked to be about 80 years old with white hair and glasses.
“Yes, I am,” I said.
“Then you can have this one that I was saving.  It looks like he’s not coming.”  I slid into the seat and we introduced ourselves.
“I’ve been coming to these conferences for more than 50 years,” he told me.  “I remember when they had a gate at the front entrance and there was only one way in and one way out.  The main road was dirt and the only hotel was built of boards.  People don’t know how much this place has improved over the years.”
We talked about Lake Junaluska for a while longer, and then he asked, “You married?”
“Yes,” I said.  “I have two children, a girl and a boy.”
“Well, spend time with them.  That’s the most important thing.  And talk.  Don’t matter about what.  Just talk.  Most of all talk to your wife.  She’s going to be there when the kids leave.  It’s important to get to know her before then.  And tell her you love her before you go to sleep and when you wake up and when you come home from work, and when you call her during the day, if you call her.  She needs to hear it and you need to say it.”  He gave me a long stare.  “Do you do these things?” he asked quietly, placing his hand on my arm.
“I try,” I said.
“No, you have to do more than try.  You have to do them. “he told me with some urgency in his voice. “I didn’t do these things.  I took my family for granted.  I had meetings every night that I thought were important.  I worked on weekends, and I was on every committee in my church.  I couldn’t say no to any request from anyone.  I enjoyed being needed by everyone except my family, and especially my wife.   I remember coming home at night and the kids would be in bed and I hadn’t seen them in a week.  My wife would be up and wanting to talk about some problem with the children, but I was too tired to listen.  We had a lot of fights back then.  But after the children got older, we stopped fighting and we stopped talking.  I lost touch with my own family.  Now that I am retired, I still don’t spend much time at home.  Not because I’m all that busy, but because I can’t stand the silence.  She sits and watches T.V. all day and when I try to talk, she doesn’t hear me, or pretends not to.  I would give anything I own to be able to undo what I have done, but I can’t.  All I can do is tell people like you about my mistakes.”
I did not know what to say except, “Thank you.”
We didn’t talk the rest of the session and at break he got up and left.  That was the last time I saw him.  After the session, I went outside and called my wife.

Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Mummified Coon Dog of Waycross, Georgia

The summer after my senior year in high school, I was employed by a group of tobacco buyers to drive them from tobacco market to tobacco market, beginning the first three weeks in Georgia and slowly working our way up to South Carolina, and finally back up to North Carolina.  While in Georgia, we stationed ourselves in the small town of Waycross..  Waycross is an interesting town.  It was first settled around 1820 and was known back then as "Old Nine" or "Number Nine" and then Pendleton. It was renamed Tebeauvilee in 1857, and finally incorporated as "Way Cross" on March 3, 1935.  According to several sources, “During the 1950s the city had a tourist gimmick. The local police would stop motorists with out-of-state license plates and escort them to downtown Waycross. There they would be met by the Welcome World Committee and given overnight lodging, dinner and a trip to the Okefenokee Swamp. The tradition faded away after the interstates opened through Georgia.”  I am sure that an unscheduled, unexpected, and unplanned overnight trip to Waycross, Georgia, and then a trip to the Okefenokee Swamp the next morning was every out-of-towners dream.  Thank God for interstate highways.

For a small town, though, Waycross has several major claims to fame.  Actor and star of Bonanza, Pernell Roberts (the dark haired, oldest son of Pa), called Waycross his hometown, as did Burt Reynolds and Billy “Billy Beer” Carter, the brother of former President Jimmy Carter.  Barbeque Bob, a Country singer (surprise) recorded a song about Waycross called the “Waycross Georgia Blues”.  He must have been forced to spend the night there then take a trip to the swamp.

More interesting to me is that Waycross is the hometown of Sonora Webster Carver.  Never heard of her?  Well, she apparently was the first woman horse diver in the whole United States.  Horse diving was once more popular than it is today, but it consists mainly of walking a horse up a ramp to a 20 foot tower, getting on the horse’s back and riding him off the tower into a pond below. 

But, most interesting than everything else is “Stuckie” the mummified coon hound dog that is on display in the Southern Forest World Museum in Waycross.  Stuckie was a four-year old coon dog who was out hunting in the 1960’s.  He ran off to chase and tree a coon the way he was trained to do.  One thing you look for in a coon dog is determination; a coon dog that will never give up the hunt is worth his weight in gold.  And Stuckie was full of determination.  Or maybe he was just not a very smart coon dog.  Anyway, the coon Stuckie was chasing ran into a hollow chestnut tree and Stuckie followed him.  The coon ran up the hollow and ran out a hole toward the middle of the tree.  Stuckie followed but as the tree narrowed, Stuckie became wedged into the tree (hence, his name). He struggled with all his might but could not get out; and there he died.  Resins from the core of the tree helped preserve his body.  In the 1980’s the tree that Stuckie was in was cut down by loggers and placed on a log truck.  At some point, someone looked inside and saw Stuckie, who by now was a mummy.  Now, you don’t see a mummified coon hound dog stuck in a tree every day.  The loggers thought other people might think this was worth seeing, too, and they donated the log and Stuckie to the museum.  And there he sits, still in his tree, baring his teeth to all the visitors and tourists; Stuckie, the mummified coon hound dog. 

Beats the swamp hands down.

Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Rifleman is Dead and I Don’t Feel Too Good Myself

One morning several years ago I read with great sadness that Chuck Connors, who had starred in the black and white TV Western “The Rifleman” had died.  I don’t really know why I took it so hard.  Maybe it was because the Rifleman had been one of my first heroes.  The Rifleman was a man’s man.  He always stood up for what was right and he was always on the side of justice.  And he always won.  No matter how bleak things got for him, he never lost faith in himself, he never gave up.  Evil was no match for him and his rifle. 
At the end of every show, he would have a talk with his son.
 “Son, what did you learn from all of this?” 
“Well, Pa,” his son would say  “I learned to always do what is right, and stand up for what is right, and then everything will turn out right in the end.” 
“That’s right son.  Always stick to your guns.”
Well, when we grow up we find out really fast that none of that is easy to do and certainly not as easy as it sounds.  Sometimes you cannot tell what is right or what is wrong.    For example, does a person who works for an insurance company terminate benefits according to the rules of the plan or should they make an exception for this person because of their tragic circumstances?  And if they do it for this person, what about the next person?  Right is not always that easy to do or stand up for.  
And what about always sticking to your guns?  The real world revolves around compromise.  If you are to survive in business, politics, or tidlywinks your guns cannot be glued to your hands.  You have to learn how to un-stick that gun and give it to someone else.  Likewise, no marriage will survive if both partners unyieldingly stick to their guns.
The Rifleman thrived in his world of black and white and offered his son the benefit of his black and white life experiences.  But in our real world of varying shades of color, things are not that simple or easy.   God did not create easy choices.  Moral and ethical choices require thought, prayer, and meditation.  Each choice requires deep listening not only to outside voices but to the inward voice of the Holy Spirit.   
The Rifleman is dead.  Did he ever really exist?

Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Marching Naked, Unaware



One afternoon I looked out my office window and I saw him marching up 4th Street with his baton in hand.  No clothes, just a baton.  Naked as the day he was born.  A high-stepping, head held high, strutting, naked, drum major without a band.  Not even any shoes.  Strutting up the center lane toward uptown Charlotte, he marched with a confidence that even a fully clothed man would lack.  He marched without caring that traffic was backed up.  He marched, leading his imaginary naked band in an imaginary naked rendition of a naked marching tune.  Lewis Grizzard once said that “naked” was when you did not have any clothes on and “neked” was when you did not have any clothes on and were up to something.  This man was up to something and the police agreed.  He was arrested, but not before he marched past the police headquarters, the courthouse, the County Office Building, the City Office Building, City Hall, and all the way downtown into the heart of the banking capital of the Carolinas.  I believe he was found to be intoxicated.

In one sense this was funny to watch.  In another it was like watching a tragedy unfold.  I knew how this was going to end and I knew that the end was not going to be good for the main actor, but I all I could do was watch.  The naked man seemed oblivious to his surroundings and to the eventual outcome of his actions.  He marched slowly and blissfully to his tragic end.

Is this the way God feels as he watches us?  Is He amused and saddened at the same time? Are we the naked drum majors marching unaware?  If we are, it is not God’s fault.  God reaches out to us at every opportunity.  The Holy Spirit offers guidance and discernment, and reveals God’s will to us.  All we have to do is listen.  So, why doesn’t God stop us when we don’t listen to Him?  Why doesn’t God stop our naked march down life’s busy street?  The answer is love.

God wants us to consciously and willfully choose Him.  If we answer God’s knock on our door, He will be there for us.  But, we have to answer that knock.  If we choose to listen to God; to follow His direction, then He will lead us.  If I choose not to listen, then God is not going to stop me from acting in a way that I should not act.  He will not like the way I act.  He will be saddened by the way I act, but He will not stop me.  He will let me march naked by Him all the way to my tragic end, if that is what I choose.  He lets me do this because he loves me.  He would rather I reject Him freely than love Him robotically.

I do not know what happened to the naked drum major after he was arrested.  He may have been taken to jail then released.  He may have spent some time in a mental health facility.  Hopefully his naked marching days are over.

Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chasing the Wind

A few days ago I read an old story written about a man named Ali Hafed who sold his idyllic farm and wandered the world in search of diamonds.  His search yielded nothing and his dreams of being wealthy did not come true.  Finally, penniless and poor, Ali threw himself into the ocean off the coast of Spain and drowned himself.
Meanwhile, the man who purchased Ali’s farm discovered an entire acre of diamonds as he plowed the fields that Ali had once owned and walked over each day.
As I read this story, I was reminded of a woman that I saw through my office window.  She was walking very briskly down the sidewalk.  Her manner and her gate made me think that she was very focused on her objective and very determined to get there.  Behind her a small child followed.  I think she must have been about 3 or 4 years old.  I also think this child belonged to the woman she was following.  This child was singing as she walked and kicking at fallen leaves; picking them up, throwing them, laughing; her hair blowing in the wind.
Too often, like Ali Hafed and this woman, we ignore the miracle that is with us as we search for something that is just beyond our vision and just beyond our grasp.
Miracles surround us.  If only we had eyes to see them.


Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.   The right to download and store the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and the materials may not be produced or reproduced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com




Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Different Road


I read somewhere that to meditate we need a time, a place and a posture.  My time is the noon hour.  My place is the road.  And my posture is that of a runner.  In a tank top or t-shirt, shorts and running shoes, I am the picture of simplicity.  I desire nothing during these sacred times except to be left alone with my thoughts.  I meditate as I run, lost in the depth of me, finding my way on my familiar course by instinct.

My thoughts generally concern my life and the people, places and things that occupy it.  I allow them to flow from one subject to another, with no particular order and no particular pattern.  There is one rule that I enforce in my thinking during this time.  I never allow it to be about my work.  I never solve problems I have encountered in the morning hours on the road at noon.  This one hour is reserved for a higher plane of thoughts and when I catch them straying on the forbidden path of the routine, I quickly bring them back to their unfocused but lofty course.

It is during this hour that I can view my life from beginning to end.  I can drop in on old friends that I have not seen in years; I can visit my high school teachers; I can go back to the day when I first met my wife and I can kiss her for the first time again.  I can have long conversations with my Dad and say things that I never said to him before he died.  I can see myself in retirement, reading to my grandchildren, taking long walks, traveling.

Where my thoughts wander most often are to the forks in the road of my life.  I have always thought of the times when I was confronted with significant choices that have had great impact on my life as forks.  I have discovered that I can mentally approach and analyze them from my perspective as a middle-aged adult.  I ask myself, “Did I make the right choice?”  To discover the answer, I mentally travel down the fork in the road that I did not take and I try to visualize what my life would have been like had I made another choice.  Often, I discover that my life would have been much worse.  But, sometimes, after traveling all the way down the other fork in my mind, I know that I did not take the better road in real life.

What do we do when we discover that we have not made the best choices in life?  We cannot relive life.  We cannot “crawl back into our mother’s womb” and be reborn.  But, sometimes life gives us the chance to redeem ourselves.  Sometimes the road of life circles around and approaches the same or similar fork, and we are confronted with the same choices.  Will we recognize the similarities so we can change the result?  Do we make the same decisions and mistakes again?  Or do we boldly choose a different road?

Copyright ©2013 by Eric Lanier.   The right to download and store the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and the materials may not be produced or reproduced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com